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Jax Beach charter school promises "new model" of learning

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Updated: 9/12/2013 3:38 pm
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla -- Kids at the Seaside Community Charter School in Jacksonville Beach don't sit in desks, don't learn from standard textbooks and don't even have homework. There's an hour-and-a-half per day of recess and rules against wearing television characters on their clothing.

"We have an arts infused curriculum," said Principal Elizabeth Fullerton, a former University of North Florida professor. "The children spend a lot of time outside working in their environment. In October they'll start walking to the beach and having math and science at school."

The subjects are similar to the ones taught in public school systems, but the way these elementary school students learn is much different. They are aided by UNF professors and students who are learning to teach a way that's even new to them, utilizing research into early childhood education learning.

"It's not just sitting at desks and staring straight at a teacher," said UNF student Russell Connell. "They're up and around."

The school is in its first year and now includes kindergarten through second grade. But the school plans to make it K-5 and eventually, a middle and high school that follows the same model.

In the model, called Waldorf Teaching, there's even yoga. Along with academic learning, students develop social and emotional skills, that professors say is integral to their learning development.

"A lot of times the model is based on older learners, and we know how young children learn," said UNF professor Dr. Katherine Hall.

Hall wrote the charter at UNF to bring the first charter school to the beaches. A charter school is under the umbrella of public school systems, in this case Duval County Schools, but is governed by a separate advisory board unaffiliated with the school system. A federal grant allows 90 students to go to Seaside tuition free.

The school is making another part of history: the first one in years to operate in the first school for African-Americans at the beaches, which opened in 1939.

"It's definitely not the school for every parent, but we've had many parents who sought us out," said Fullerton.

This year is full but to sign up for next year in a January lottery, go to seasidecharter.org

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